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Students worried about transit cuts, staffing shortages as Rye returns to in-person classes

By Alethea Ng 

As Ryerson students gradually return to campus for in-person learning, some say they’re concerned that cuts to transit services will lengthen their commute times and threaten their safety. 

Several transit agencies across the Greater Toronto Area have reduced their service for COVID-19-related reasons. The TTC suspended hundreds of employees in November after they refused to get vaccinated against the virus, which caused adjustments or reductions to over 50 bus routes. Metrolinx also said it would be decreasing GO Transit service by about 15 per cent due to staffing shortages.

Ashan Mahendran, a fourth-year graphic communications management student, said he attributes the delays on his commute to the staffing shortages from the TTC’s vaccine policy. Mahendran’s commute from Pickering to campus takes him up to an hour and a half via TTC and GO Transit, but recent delays have made his travel times even longer.

Mahendran said the longer-than-usual wait at his bus stop is inconvenient to him. “I don’t want to wait in the cold that long.” 

“I’m risking my own health just to get an education”

Maryann Anastasakos, a first-year criminology student, said she’s “excitedly nervous” about resuming in-person classes. Anastasakos, who’s never been on campus for classes, said although students want to have their normal university experience, the risk of contracting the Omicron variant is an additional stress for those who commute to school.

Anastasakos said she’s not sure whether her commute from Richmond Hill will be safe once classes transition to in-person. “Too many people will be needing to use public transit once everything fully opens up,” she said. “I believe that [transit] could become a potential super spreader.”

Gohul Tharmakulaseelan, a third-year business technology management student, said he’s worried that long transit wait times will affect his ability to get to school on time. He said unlike before the pandemic, there’s no room now for timing or scheduling mistakes. “If I’ve missed the bus, it’s almost like it’s over. I’m gonna be late to class, guaranteed.”

Tharmakulaseelan said he’s also concerned about the risk of contracting COVID-19 on public transit, especially when it comes to social distancing during rush hour. “I’ve seen buses completely sandwiched with people,” he said. “I’m risking my own health just to get an education.”

Despite his worries about transit, Tharmakulaseelan said he believes the TTC did the right thing by implementing mandatory vaccination for its employees. “It’s that extra degree of safety that it’s providing for the riders,” he said. 

Hayden Poon, a third-year urban and regional planning student who also volunteers with the transit advocacy group TTC Riders, said he’s hoping the federal and provincial governments will provide funding for public transit to mitigate COVID-19 risks. “With more funding, you can provide more service,” he said, which would lead to less crowding. 

Stuart Green, a spokesperson for the TTC told The Eyeopener that ridership in late January was approximately 35 to 40 per cent of what it was pre-COVID, and service levels are back to normal in high ridership areas. 

The transit agency also said they are “trying to address crowding issues by putting service where demand is,” adding that due to a mid-February service increase, they don’t “anticipate any significant impact on service.”

Metrolinx said in an email that as of Jan. 28, GO Transit service is down 47 per cent compared to October 2021, when GO transit hit its pandemic high. “The recent reduction in service is because there are far fewer customers using GO Transit buses and trains right now,” they said. 

Metrolinx also said they will be monitoring ridership levels “very closely” as more commuters return to school or work in-person.

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